Question: Can a Christian not sin?

Can a Christian not sin?

 

Jesus did not sin. John writes, “ And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin.” (1 Jn. 3:5)  Peter is more specific,

  • 21 For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps:
  • 22 “Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth”; (1 Pet 2:21-22)

The Lord Jesus Christ did not sin in His humanity, or any other time, but what about you and me? Can a Christian not sin?

An interesting passage is the second account of sin.  Abel and Cain made offerings to God and God accepted Abel’s offering, but not Cain’s.  The purpose of this article is not to analyze why God did not accept Cain’s offering, but to note that He did not accept it and to look at the Lord’s counsel to Cain.

  • 6 So the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen?
  • 7 “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.” (Gen. 4:6-7)

Notice that God does not rebuke Cain on the specifics of the offering, but challenges him to reflect on what he should now do. 

Cain had not repented or realized he was thinking independently from God. So God asks Cain the questions, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen?” not because God does not know the answers, but to help Cain consider his actions.  God did not accept his offering, but Cain also did not approach God and ask God why he did not accept the offering.  Cain was acting independently from God and God’s questions were designed to reveal to Cain his failure to humble himself and submit to the Lord.

Then God changes the course of the questions.  God asks, “If you do well…” That is the key in life – to do well.  To do well is to please God.  It doesn’t matter what we do or not in our own eyes, but doing well in God’s eyes does matter.  Then God explains what must happen for Cain to do well – to be accepted by God. In order to do well, you must recognize there is an enemy.  God says, “Sin lies at the door.”  The door is Cain’s heart.  Sin is personified as having a desire to control Cain.  That is always the desire of sin.  It wants to control and not just a little or in just a few areas, but all the time and in every area. 

Sin has one focus – it wants to control you.  It will look for your weaknesses and start out small.  It will often gain a foothold in your life in small things, for example in doubt or worry, or about whether you will be accepted or rejected.  It may start in small secret areas of life like pornography or material lusts in desiring more clothes or maybe in seeking the status of having a boyfriend.  It starts small and then seeks to gain ground.  Sin is like a fire, it is never satisfied, until it controls every area.  Sin is like a grave that is always looking for its next victim.  Sin is like a parched desert that never gets enough water. It’s stated best in Proverbs,

  • 15 The leech has two daughters– Give and Give! There are three things that are never satisfied, Four never say, “Enough!”:
  • 16 The grave, The barren womb, The earth that is not satisfied with water– And the fire never says, “Enough!” (Pro. 30:15-16)

Sin desires to control, so God clarifies to Cain, “…but you must rule over it.”  With that admonishment and challenge, Cain leaves the presence of the Lord.  The question is, “Will he rule over his sin, so that sin does not control him?”  What does the next verse say? “Now Cain talked with Abel his brother; and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.” (Gen. 4:8)  Can you believe it? In the very next verse, God shows that Cain does not control sin. In the very next verse, Cain is not just tempted, but he falls headlong into sin and murders his brother.  Maybe Cain thinks he needs to remove the competition, so that God would “have” to accept what Cain did.  

Cain cannot control sin, because he was not completely dependent on the Lord.  Cain does not control sin, because God never intended that we could control sin apart from His presence in our lives.  Cain does not control sin, because only God’s work in our lives through His power, the Holy Spirit, can a believer successfully rule over sin.

Can a believer not sin?  NO and YES.  A believer cannot control sin in his own power.  He will succumb to temptation every time and reveal the ineptness of his flesh to function in dependency upon the Lord. He will fail just as Cain failed.  Yet, the believer can control sin, when he is dependent on the Lord and filled with the Holy Spirit. 

Is that important to understand?  Absolutely, because it reveals that a believer will be fleshly, except when he is dependent on the Lord.
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Question: Does a Christian have to persevere in order to be saved?

Does a Christian have to persevere in order to be saved?

This is a great question from an astute student of God’s Word.  It comes from one who has heard of the acrostic attributed to Calvin called TULIP.  Each of the letters is descriptive of an aspect of what a person believes, who says he is a Calvinist.

The letters describe a person’s theology.  Do not, however, judge a person who says he holds to the TULIP principle until you fully understand what he personally means.  Some believe in the acrostic TULIP, but have different understandings than what Calvin taught or many modern day theologians who hold to Calvinistic theology. 

Allow me to give a brief explanation of each of the letters, without digging below the surface. The “T” stands for Total Depravity.  Man is totally depraved and can do nothing that merits any recognition or reward from God.  The “U” stands for Unconditional Election and defines God’s sovereign choice in electing believers in Jesus Christ.  The “L” stands for Limited Atonement and implies that Jesus’ death was only applicable to those who are elect (An article will appear very soon to explain how this one is clearly not Scriptural).  The “I” stands for the Irresistible Grace of God that a person cannot refuse when it is his time to be saved.  The “P” stands for Perseverance of the Saints and implies that once a believer is saved, he must continue in the faith, or he really was not saved.  I am only addressing the last letter, the “P” of TULIP.

Does a person have to persevere to be saved?  There are certainly different understandings of people who hold to this theology, so I do not want to categorize everyone in a particular way. The gist of the principle is that God elects a person to be saved.  At salvation, God gives eternal life and the person enters into a relationship with God.  Based on Scriptures like John 15, the person who abides in Jesus will bear fruit and if the person is not bearing fruit, then “the person was not really saved,” according to this view.  Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)  In other words, “they” will say, if you are not bearing fruit, you are not abiding in Jesus and you are therefore not a believer.  Consequently, if you are not bearing fruit, you are not persevering and you must not be a believer.  “They” will normally not define what “bearing fruit” is, but they will not allow a person to act carnally and be considered a believer (see the article posted on June 4, 2013). 

Hence, “they” will say a person must persevere in life and not fall into life dominating sin patterns.  For example, a good example of one who was a believer, but chose life dominating sin patterns was King Saul. There are clear indications that King Saul was a believer according to 1 Samuel 10.  Yet how was it that he fell away from the Lord and pursued killing David?  He acted according to his flesh, rather than humbly submitting to the sovereign will of God. 

David himself is a good example of a believer, who fell into life dominating sin patterns. While David is called a man after God’s own heart, he committed adultery and murdered Bathsheba’s husband Uriah the Hittite.  Then he continued for nine months of independence from God until Nathan the prophet came and rebuked him of his sin. David was living in life dominating sin until Nathan rebuked him. David repented, but he bore the consequences of his sin.

Lot is another example of a believer, who lived in life dominating sin patterns.  Lot was the nephew of Abraham and allowed himself to slowly acclimate to the culture and darkness of Sodom and Gomorrah.  While he lost his sons-in-law in the city destruction, his wife who turned into a pillar of salt and he committed incest with his two daughters, God still called him “righteous Lot.”  Peter records,

·       6 and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, making them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly;
·       7 and delivered righteous Lot, who was oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked
·       8 (for that righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soulfrom day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds)–
·       9 then the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment, (2 Pet. 2:6-9)

Lot foolishly stayed in that filthy, degenerate environment and tormented his “righteous soul” in the process.  Yet, in all of Lot’s sins, he was a believer.  Lot was saved, not because he persevered, but because God persevered.  God perseveres in His mercy, so that anyone who trusts in God’s provision of salvation, God will deliver them into eternity as His child.

Have you accepted Jesus as your Savior?  If you do, you become a child of God.  John writes, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.” (John 1:12)  If you not only know that Jesus died for your sins and you agree that Jesus alone is, and could be, your substitute to pay the penalty for sin, then your trusting faith accepts Jesus as the gift of God and you are given the right to become a child of God.  You do nothing but accept the gift.  Once you become a child of God, you can never not be a child of God.  That is not a license to sin, because God will discipline the disobedient child.  That is not freedom to live any way you want, because you will lose out on all the blessings and rewards God intends for you. That is not a reason to choose what you want to do in life apart from God, but an opportunity to pursue the holiness of God and mirror that holiness to the world around you. That is not a reason for you to become indifferent and check out from God, but a reason to respond with grateful, humble obedience to do His will in life.

We all have life dominating sin patterns.  Some get into drunkenness and immorality.  Some are more refined and suffer in life dominating sins of worry and doubt.  Some choose life dominating sins of complacency or indifference to witness their faith to others and disciple them to Jesus Christ. Often, people who argue for perseverance of the saints as the measure of their Christianity have the big sins under control and struggle with more acceptable sins of personal agenda control and hidden anger that no one normally sees.  May God grant us all mercy as we seek His righteousness and His understanding.

Question: Does a Christian have to endure to be saved?

Does a Christian have to endure to be saved?

This is a basic question that many Christians struggle through in their Christian walk.  It comes from a passage in Matthew which says, “But he who endures to the end shall be saved.” (Matt. 24:13) Does this mean that if a Christian does not endure, in some way, he will not make it into heaven? This is an example of Christians who may know considerable Scripture, but do not know how God divided Scripture into dispensations.

What is a dispensation?  A dispensation is a period of time, from God’s perspective, where God shows that man, no matter how much truth or blessing is given from God, will choose to rebel and be separated from God’s presence, unless he humbles himself to God’s will.  There is no way you can rightly divide God’s truth and harmonize it from Genesis to Revelation without an understanding of dispensations.  Most Christians are dispensational, but many do not admit it.

Matthew 24 is called the Olivet Discourse.  Jesus had taken the disciples out of the city of Jerusalem to the Mount of Olives and was describing what would happen during a specific period of time.

  • Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple.
  • 2 And Jesus said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”
  • 3 Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”
  • 4 And Jesus answered and said to them: “Take heed that no one deceives you. (Matt. 24:1-4)

Note several things about this passage.  First, it is right after Jesus’ rebuke of the Pharisees (Matt. 23). Secondly, Jesus prophesied that the stones of the city, in fact, the temple, would be thrown down (Matt. 24:2) For this reason some have attempted to define this chapter to the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D., but that is a misunderstanding of Scripture. Thirdly, the disciples want to know what will happen at the “end of the age.” (Matt. 24:3) The disciples did not fully understand the ages as they reveal their lack of understanding as recorded in Acts 1:6.  The end of the Age will be the last segment of the Jewish Age in which they were living.  This will be described in a future article related to Daniel 9:24-27 and the seventy weeks that Daniel describes. Fourthly, Jesus tells them to listen and be alert, because there will be many who will try to deceive them.  In fact, the enemy, Satan himself, wants nothing more than to deceive, confuse, divide and destroy those who are pursuing the Lord Jesus Christ.

            Then Jesus begins to describe what the end of the Age will be like. Jesus said,

  • 7 “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places.
  • 8 “All these are the beginning of sorrows.
  • 9 “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake.
  • 10 “And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another.
  • 11 “Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many.
  • 12 “And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. (Matt. 24:7-12)

The end of the age will be filled with nations warring against nation, with famines, with earthquakes and tribulation. Notice that Israel, “you,” will be the target of the enemy in the tribulation.  Notice there will be many false prophets, that is, there will be great confusion and deception. And notice that the love of God will grow cold, because people will not remain faithful to God.

            That is a description of the last seven years of Israel’s history.  That period of history is so destructive, because it is the last opportunity for the enemy, Satan, to destroy the Jews.  He wants to destroy the Jews, because if he can destroy the Jews, then God cannot fulfill His covenants He made to Abraham and David.  Those will be fulfilled at the Second Advent when Jesus returns.  If there were no Jews, then the covenants could not be fulfilled.

We are experiencing troubled times today, but it will intensify during that period.  So, in the middle of describing that tribulational time, Jesus made the statement, “But he who endures to the end shall be saved.” (Matt. 24:13) Every word has meaning. 

The basic meaning of the word “saved” is “delivered.”  When a person is saved at salvation, he is delivered from condemnation.  When a person is “saved” in the Tribulation, it means that he is delivered from the coming wrath of the Lord Jesus Christ and subsequent torments when he returns at the Second Advent and delivered into the new age called the Millennium.  Hence, the verse means that the person who endures, that is, he holds onto his faith in life, he will be delivered into the Millennium. 

It is not talking about “saved from eternal condemnation.”  Once a person genuinely trusts in Jesus Christ as his Savior, he has eternal life.  He is eternally secure.  He did nothing for salvation.  He can do nothing to lose his salvation.  His salvation did not depend on him.  His eternal security does not depend on him.  It all depends on the mercy and sovereign will of God.

 

Question: Can a Christian be a carnal Christian?

Can a Christian be a carnal Christian?

Recently, I had a discussion with a fellow-believer, who said that Christians cannot be carnal Christians. Said in another way, a Christian cannot be considered carnal or act carnal, because he is spiritual.  He said that a carnal person is really just an unbeliever.  A Christian is one who may sin, but would not live in carnality.  Is he right?

Unfortunately, while this believer knows the Scriptures well, he doesn’t interpret them well.  He imposes his theology on the Scripture and interprets it according to his theology rather than according to correct rules of interpretation.  If you approach Scripture with presuppositions (statements that imply a truth taken for granted), you will tend to read meaning into the Scripture.  For example, if I say, “I no longer drive Chevy trucks.” The presupposition is that I used to drive Chevy trucks. That is a true statement.  If I approach Scripture with presuppositions, I will work the Scriptures to mean what I want them to mean.

When someone says that a Christian cannot be carnal, they try to explain away a very easy-to-understand passage of Scripture. The passage is 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 where Paul writes,

·       And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ.
·       2 I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able;
·       3 for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? (1 Cor. 3:1-3)

Some try to explain this away by taking the culture of the church today and inserting that back into the culture of the church in Corinth. That is called eisegesis, which means to “read the interpretation into Scripture.”  Today, there are unbelievers who attend church.  In Paul’s day, those who were not believers did not identify or attend church. What does Paul say in his letter to Corinth?

·       To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours: (1 Cor. 1:2)

Paul is writing to the believers in Corinth and they were saints.  The culture in Paul’s day was far different than today.  Churches were house churches, because Christians were not welcomed.  They were hated because they did not give allegiance to Caesar.  They were used by Nero as torches for his garden parties.  They eventually hid and met in catacombs, because they were so despised.  Those who were not believers did not identify or attend church.  Christians didn’t invite friends to church to hear the gospel.  They gave the gospel to their friends and those who believed looked for a church family to identify with for nurture and growth.  Paul’s letter was intended to be delivered to those were “sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints” and therefore believers.

Then notice in the first passage of 1 Corinthians 3 how Paul describes them.  What does he say?  He calls them “brethren.”  In other words, they were believers.  Now in that context, what follows describes Paul’s audience of believers. 

Paul writes he could not speak to them as spiritual people.  That phrase does not define a Christian, but rather one who is filled or controlled by the Holy Spirit.  Paul uses similar phraseology in Galatians 6:1,

·       Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. (Gal. 6:1)

Paul is writing to those who are “spiritual” that is those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit, not merely Christians.  If you are not controlled by the Holy Spirit, you will create more division in your admonishment and correction, because you will not examine yourself.  In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul describes them as not “spiritual,” but rather “carnal.” Both words, “spiritual” and “carnal” are adjectives. The word for “carnal” means one who is characterized by the flesh.  He is a fleshly-like person.  At that moment, he is living according to the flesh instead of the Spirit.  He is a carnal person.

Paul continues by writing, they are babes in Christ.  This is a common expression for someone who is a new Christian and has not grown up.  A spiritual baby does not know how to fulfill God’s plan and is concerned more for self, than for others.  He is a Christian, but he acts very fleshly or carnal.  He has not learned spiritual disciplines.  He is not very concerned about others.  He is focused on himself. God doesn’t condemn spiritual babes for being fleshly.  They just need to be discipled so they can grow up to be a spiritual child, a spiritual young adult and then a spiritual parent.

Can a Christian be carnal?  Of course, he can act very fleshly.  He can and is carnal, that is, he acts according to the flesh, rather than according to the Spirit.  He is fleshly, because he has a sin nature inside of him, which he acquired at birth from his father (Rom. 5:12).  That sin nature stays with the believer until it is removed at death.  Paul says it best,

·       23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.
·       24 O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Rom. 7:23-24)

Paul is describing the sin nature that still can control him, if he chooses to let it.  As long as he remains filled, or controlled by the Holy Spirit, He will not be acting according to the sin nature.  The challenge is that in this lifetime, it is impossible apart from humble submission to the sovereign will of God.

Always take the natural interpretation and develop your theology from that, rather than choose a theology and then interpret Scripture.  That can easily result in spiritual pride.

Question: Does God remove the Holy Spirit from a believer today?

 
Does God remove the Holy Spirit from a believer today?
 

The above question is part of a larger set of questions: Why did the Holy Spirit leave King Saul in the OT? Why did David pray that the Spirit would not leave him after a serious sin? Is there application there for believers today or is this only something that was an issue during their dispensation? Does this relate to losing your salvation in any way in our dispensation? I wonder why God would remove his Holy Spirit (that I would assume was saving/sealing him), but would not do that to a believer today that sinned to the point that Saul did.

This is a difficult set of questions and should not be dealt with superficially.  Consequently, I’ll give a little background and then answer the question.  I refer you to three posts made previously on August 14,15 and 17, 2012 in this site.  These will provide additional background that will be helpful.  As the writer to the Hebrew says,

13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe.
 14But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. (Heb. 5:13-14)

            God created man to resolve the Angelic Conflict.  God cast Satan down on the earth when he sinned (Ezek. 28:15) and Satan took one third of the angels with him (Rev. 12:4).  Satan destroyed the earth (void and without form, Gen. 1:2), and God recreated the earth placing man on earth to show that only when the creature is dependent on the Creator, would there be harmony and blessing.  There can be only one will (Luke 22:42), the Sovereign Creator’s, and any will contrary to God’s will results in destruction and misery (1 Thes. 1:7-9).

            This is a Classical Dispensational approach to human history to show that the creature continues to defy the Creator regardless of the promises, laws and provisions the Lord makes for man.  However, when man humbles himself before the Creator and depends on the Creator, then there is redemption and great blessing (1 Pet. 5:5). Thus God revealed specific dispensations, from God’s perspective, to reveal what is required for the creature to walk in harmony and blessing with God.

            David lived during the Jewish Age.  That is the time of Abraham through the time of Christ.  God provided promises called covenants to Abraham and David (Gen. 12:1-3; 2 Sam. 7:12-16).  Additionally, there were the Palestinian and New Covenants given (Deut. 30:1-12; Jer. 31:31-34) to help Israel trust God and enjoy His blessing. These were all unconditional covenants that depend only on God and will be fulfilled at the Second Advent of Jesus Christ.  The Mosaic Law (or Covenant) was a conditional covenant and designed as a system that made Israel separate from the rest of the world as God’s people, but also to lead people to Christ (Gal. 3:24).

            During the Jewish Age, the Holy Spirit “endued” or “clothed” certain individuals.  The enduement was not for saving or sealing, but for specific operational or experiential power in God’s plan. For example, the Holy Spirit worked through Joseph as prime minister in Egypt (Gen. 41:38). Artisans, who worked on the tabernacle, were endued by the Holy Spirit (Ex. 28:3; 31:3).  God took from Moses and “put the [Holy Spirit] upon them” for administrative purposes (Num. 11:17,25).  Joshua, as a political and military leader, was given the Spirit (Num. 27:18). Certain judges were given the Spirit (Othniel – Judg. 3:9-10); Gideon – Judg. 6:34; Jephthah – Judg. 11:29; and Samson – Judg. 13:24,25; 14:5-6; 15:14).  There were some kings who were given the Spirit (1 Sam. 10:9-10; 16:13). And certain post-exilic rulers were given the Spirit (Zech. 4:3,12-14).

            However, the Spirit may only be present for a short time.  The Holy Spirit could be removed as God sovereignly determined.  For example, the Holy Spirit could be removed as divine discipline, as in the case of King Saul (1 Sam. 16:14) and from David (Ps. 51:11).

            A person in the Jewish Age could request the Holy Spirit (2 Kings 2: 9-10; Luke 11:13).  And Jesus gave the Holy Spirit to the disciples to sustain them just before the ascension during the ten day period until the Day of Pentecost (John 20:22).

            This is in contrast to the Church Age ministry of the Holy Spirit.  In the Church Age, the time from Pentecost to the Rapture of the Church, the Holy Spirit indwells every believer (Rom. 8:9).  However, not every believer is filled with the Holy Spirit, that is, empowered or controlled by the Holy Spirit.  Paul commands the Church Age believer to be filled with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18).  There is never a command to be indwelt by the Holy Spirit – it is a reality.  The filling command exists, because when the believer sins, the filling ceases and the believer must  repent, confess his sins and depend again on the Holy Spirit through filling (2 Cor. 7:9-11; 1 John 1:9; Eph. 5:18).

            So, let me go back to the questions in the beginning.  The Holy Spirit left King Saul, because Saul rebelled against the Lord (1 Sam. 15: 22-23).  God removed His blessing from Saul.  God gave blessing to David to prepare him to be king.  David prayed that God not take the Holy Spirit, because David had just committed adultery and murdered Uriah the Hittite (Ps. 51:11).  David knew God could remove the Holy Spirit from his life.

            There is tremendous application for the believer today.  Today, the believer will always be indwelt by the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit establishes the body as the temple of the Holy Spirit for Jesus Christ to dwell (1 Cor. 6:19-20).  Jesus said He indwells the believer and He must have the temple established (John 14:20; 17:21).  However, when the believer sins today, he loses the divine operational power in which to produce the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23).  As long as a believer is filled with the Spirit, he will not sin (Gal. 5:16)  Have you ever wondered why Christians can be nice sometimes and horrible at other times?  They are not filled with the Spirit, even though they may be genuine believers.

            Removal of the power of the Holy Spirit, in no way causes a believer to lose his salvation.  Salvation is maintained by the shed blood of Jesus.  There are many other issues to consider in eternal security (see the post made on May 18, 2013, Is suicide the unpardonable sin?). 

            God removed the Holy Spirit from King Saul, but he was still a believer and he will be in heaven.  King Saul died a horrible death (1 Sam. 30), because he went down the downward spiral into the Sin unto Death (1 Sam. 30; Eph. 4:17-19; 1 John 5:16).  It is only in this life that a believer can suffer.  After death, there is no more sorrow and no more tears, because the old things have passed away (Rev. 21:4).  God does not remove the indwelling of the Holy Spirit today, but the believer can go through the downward spiral (Eph. 4:17-19) and end up in the Sin unto Death (1 Cor. 5:1-5; Jam. 5:19-20; 1 John 5:16).  He will be saved, yet through fire (1 Cor. 3:15).

 

These questions are very important in the interpretation of Scripture.  You will get one answer if you take a Literal Historico-grammatical approach to Scripture interpretation.  You will get a multitude of other answers with a number of other systems of interpretation.  The Literal Historico-grammatical approach to interpretation means that the Bible student will interpret Scripture literally in its natural sense, unless the passage is clearly describing a symbolic or hyperbole matter. It, “historic-,” means that Scripture must be interpreted in the time in which it was written according to the history, culture and environmental factors that influenced the writer.  And it, “grammatical,” means that Scripture must be interpreted according to the grammatical rules of writing of Hebrew, Chaldean and Greek languages.  This system will give a student the answer to many of his questions and why Classical Dispensationalism is the best approach to understand God’s sovereign plan and purpose as revealed in Scripture.

 

 

Question: Are rewards in heaven based on "works" in life?

 

Are rewards in heaven based on “works” in life? 

It is interesting that rewards are already “on the eternal shelf” and waiting for us to secure them.  Paul states in Ephesians 1:3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. The phrase, “has blessed us” grammatically occurs before the action of the main verb, which is found in Ephesians 1:4, “just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world.”  The main verb occurred in eternity past as God’s sovereign choice of the believer.  Therefore, the blessings were set aside on the eternal shelf BEFORE God chose the person.  Those blessings are  just waiting to be given to the believer who accomplishes divine works.

There are two kinds of works. There are human and divine works.  Human works may be good for humanity, but are worthless for eternity sake.  Divine works are always good for earthly and eternal value.  What is the difference between human and divine works and how do these relate to eternal rewards?

Paul makes it clear that we are not saved by works, but after salvation, God designed us for works,

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,
 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.
 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. (Eph. 2:8-10)

Paul clearly states that salvation is a gift from God (Eph. 2:8), which is not based on works or what man can become related to goodness or character.  On the one hand, because of the sin nature inherited at physical birth (Rom. 5:12), man can never be good enough to be accepted by God on his own merits.  On the other hand, man can never do enough good works in order to please God.  There are not enough good works a man can do to offset the sin he inherits at physical birth and the sins which are seen in his experience. God will allow no boasting in heaven.  Only Jesus is righteous before God.

            There are only two kinds of religions in the world.  One that is based on “do,” that is, what man must “do.”  All the religions of the world fit into this category from Islam, Hinduism, Shintoism, Animism, etc. The other religion is based on “done,” that is, what Jesus has “done” for us on the cross.  Salvation is a gift received by faith alone in Christ alone.  God accepts no human works for salvation – only faith.

Yet, after salvation God designed believers for good works.  Paul uses the word “workmanship,” which literally is a word from which we get “poem.”  God wrote the poem of our lives such that we are prepared from eternity past to walk in good works. 

Paul makes the distinction between human and divine works in Scripture.  He writes,

11 For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
 12 Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw,
 13 each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is.
 14 If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward.
 15 If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
 16 Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? (1 Cor. 3:11-16)

The foundation is the basis upon what a believer builds for the sake of the kingdom.  The foundation is Jesus Christ.  Then Paul distinguishes between two kinds of works.  One category is “gold, silver, precious stones”and the other is “wood, hay, straw.”  Both are produced in man.  What is the difference?  Paul explains that in the passage. They will be “revealed by fire.”  How does fire distinguish between the two types of works?  The first category is purified and remains through the fire, while the second category burns up and results in ashes.  The first category is divine works, while the second category is human works.  What is the difference?

            The first category of divine works is work that God works through the believer by means of the Holy Spirit. Just like there is intrinsic value in gold and silver, there is intrinsic value of the work, because it is done by the Holy Spirit. The second category is work that the believer does on his own power, independent of the Holy Spirit. There is no intrinsic value.  In fact, Scripture calls this kind of work “filthy rags” as in Isaiah 64:6, “And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags.”  The best of what we can do, on our own, is filthy rags, or literally “menstrual rags,” which means there is a deadness to the works.

The divine work has intrinsic value because it is work done by the power of the Holy Spirit under the direction of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Paul states, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Phil. 4:13)  Paul further states this power is unleashed in the Christian under the direction of Jesus and empowered by the Holy Spirit, “and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power.” (Eph. 1:19)  His mighty power is unleashed by means of the Holy Spirit.

            Paul uses the description of the Holy Spirit’s power in the spiritual consequences of trusting the Lord in hope, “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Rom. 15:13)  Titus (Titus 2:7, 14; 3:8, 14) exhorts believers to good works and the word for good is kalos, which means “good of intrinsic value.”  That can only be accomplished by the Holy Spirit.

            Works of the Holy Spirit are rewarded as blessing in time and rewards in eternity.  Time on earth is the only time to establish rewards for eternity.  Let us depend on the Holy Spirit and let Him move through us to accomplish His good work!

 

 

 

 

Question: How do you discern what Scripture applies to us today?

How do you discern what Scripture applies to us today?

 

            How do you discern what Scripture applies to us today compared to what applies to the original audience?  We can learn from all Scripture as Paul records, “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” (Rom. 15:4)  Additionally, Paul proclaims that all of Scripture is provided that we might be brought in line with God’s thinking and be equipped for every good work,

16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,
 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:16-17)

In other words, I can learn from each passage of Scripture, and it helps reveal where I need to be rebuked, corrected and trained for righteous living.  Yet, not all Scripture has direct application to me.

            All Scripture is directly applicable to the intended audience.  The principle that should be understood is authorial intent.  What was the author’s intent for the intended audience?  What did the author mean to convey to the specific audience, in that culture, in that time in which they lived? For example, Ezra, who assembled 1 and 2 Chronicles records for us,

14 “if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (2 Chron. 7:14)

This passage is often used today implying that if Americans would humble themselves, then God would bless our nation again.  Yet, God was speaking in the passage to Israel, not the United States.  He describes them as “My people,” who are categorized as God’s people, because God directly called Abraham out of Ur and made a covenant with Abraham that God would raise up a great people from Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3).  God did not make that promise to the United States.  God certainly worked through the founding Fathers, however, no direct promise was made and America is not “My people.

            However, the principle has application to the United States as we saw in Romans 15:4.  The application is that we should humble ourselves, because the arrogance and indifference we are displaying toward God is certainly bringing God’s wrath in increased tornadoes, hurricanes, droughts, flooding, blizzards, etc.  Some may say these are cycles of nature, yet as America spirals down the morass of immorality, the weather, crime, economic problems uptick is increasing.  If we humble ourselves as a nation, there is no guarantee that God will bless, because there may be other reasons in world history for God to let America disintegrate.

            Actually, much of the Old Testament was meant for Israel, not the Church.  We agree with the Psalms and Proverbs. Yet, David wrote imprecatory prayer psalms (cf. Ps. 69, 109) that we cannot impose today.  David was the king and represented God, so in that position as representing God and king of Israel, he called down God’s wrath on his enemies.  We are in a position to learn from the psalm, but not use the psalm on others.  We were called to peace. The Judge will come and impose His wrath in due time.

Additionally, the Proverbs are general principles of truth designed for all, but not absolute statements of fact.  For example, “Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Pro. 22:6)  This verse is a general principle that is true, but not absolute.  Every child must make his own decisions and there are many godly parents, who were diligent to disciple their children, but the children may not have followed the Lord.  All things being equal, children will return to the godly training they were given.  However, this Proverb is not a guarantee.  On the other hand, because Proverbs are not absolute truths should not be an excuse for parents to be anything less than diligent (cf. Deut. 6:6-9).

The Gospel accounts are written so that we could understand Jesus.  Yet, there is a great amount of information that does not directly apply to us.  For example, some have used the passage, “But he who endures to the end shall be saved,” (Mat 24:13) to imply that if a believer in Jesus does not persevere, then he will not be saved.  That contradicts too many other passages of Scripture, like John 3:16; Romans 8:38-39; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20; Ephesians 2:8-9 and many others.  So how do we understand the passage? 

Matthew 24:13 is part of the Olivet Discourse that Jesus gave to the disciples during the Passover week.  The Olivet Discourse was written to describe the conditions during the Tribulation period between the Rapture of the Church and the Second Advent of Jesus Christ.  Those who endure, who keep the faith during the Tribulation will be saved.  What does “saved” mean?  The basic meaning of the word “saved” is deliverance.  Thus the passage interpreted in the context means that the believer who is faithful during the Tribulation will be delivered into the Millennial Kingdom when Jesus returns at the Second Advent. There are many other examples of passages that can only be understood by understanding Dispensations. 

The best way to understand what applies and what does not is to understand Classical Dispensationalism.  This theological approach to Scripture seeks God’s view to Scripture rather than man’s view.  It looks at what God meant for the intended audience and what applies today.

How do you take what was not intended for the church today and find meaning?  When you interpret Scripture, determine the Universal Truth or principle for the audience.  That Universal Truth transcends all time and audience and can be applied to the person who reads Scripture today.  For example, when God told Jacob to go up to Bethel and make an altar, Jacob realized he better put away anything related to idolatry, so we read, “So they gave Jacob all the foreign gods which were in their hands, and the earrings which were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the terebinth tree which was by Shechem.” (Gen. 35:4) Should women remove their earrings?  The text would indicate that action!

The question is, “What is the Universal Truth?”  Notice that Jacob took all the foreign gods “and the earrings…” In other words the earrings were more than an adornment – they were connected to the foreign gods, the idolatry.  Hence, Jacob wanted the people “holy” or “set aside” to God and not connected in any way to the idolatry when they set up the altar to worship God.  The Universal Truth is that we should be “set aside” wholly to God and not have any idolatry in our lives.  That will be more difficult, because we need to look for idolatry of personal contentment, surrounding peace, or things like the idolatry of expecting respect, which are far more difficult to discern than some object like an earring. Again, we read Scripture, always with Paul’s admonition, For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” (Rom. 15:4) 

This is a great question and the answer is determined by what hermeneutic and what theological approach to Scripture you use.  The word “hermeneutic” means the system of interpretation.  The systems of interpretation people use vary from a symbolic or allegorical approach to a Literal Historico-grammatical approach.  The theological approach people use vary from a Classical Dispensational approach to all sorts of other methods of theology. I present these two spectrums of understanding, because they determine what Scripture applies to us today.  This is a fun discussion for a home group or any other gathering to think through what are other examples of what applies directly or what applies indirectly.

 

 

 

Question: What is speaking in tongues?

What is speaking in tongues?

 

Speaking in tongues was a known language designed to gain attention and to warn of coming judgment. There are only two books of the Bible that address “speaking in tongues” with a third that references that tongues will occur.  This subject has created great confusion in the church and divided many believers, contrary to God’s desire.  The subject matter of speaking in tongues occurs in the book of Acts and 1 Corinthians.  Isaiah prophesied about speaking in tongues in Isaiah 28.

The first time speaking in tongues is mentioned in Scripture is Isaiah prophesies of that speaking in tongues is a warning that judgment is coming. It is prophesied in Isaiah 28:1-11 and records in the context of Israel’s downward spiral and judgment to come,

Woe to the crown of pride, to the drunkards of Ephraim, Whose glorious beauty is a fading flower Which is at the head of the verdant valleys, To those who are overcome with wine!
 2 Behold, the Lord has a mighty and strong one, Like a tempest of hail and a destroying storm, Like a flood of mighty waters overflowing, Who will bring them down to the earth with His hand.
 3 The crown of pride, the drunkards of Ephraim, Will be trampled underfoot;
 4 And the glorious beauty is a fading flower Which is at the head of the verdant valley, Like the first fruit before the summer, Which an observer sees; He eats it up while it is still in his hand.
 5 In that day the LORD of hosts will be For a crown of glory and a diadem of beauty To the remnant of His people,
 6 For a spirit of justice to him who sits in judgment, And for strength to those who turn back the battle at the gate.
 7 But they also have erred through wine, And through intoxicating drink are out of the way; The priest and the prophet have erred through intoxicating drink, They are swallowed up by wine, They are out of the way through intoxicating drink; They err in vision, they stumble in judgment.
 8 For all tables are full of vomit and filth; No place is clean.
 9 “Whom will he teach knowledge? And whom will he make to understand the message? Those just weaned from milk? Those just drawn from the breasts?
 10 For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept, Line upon line, line upon line, Here a little, there a little.”
 11 For with stammering lips and another tongue He will speak to this people,
12 To whom He said, “This is the rest with which You may cause the weary to rest,” And, “This is the refreshing”; Yet they would not hear. (Is. 28:1-12)

Isaiah rebuked Israel for their emotional revolt of the soul toward God and that the glory of Israel was fading – a fading flower (28:1). They once were greatly blessed, but because of their rebellion and lack of trust in the Lord, God would bring judgment of hail, storm and flooding disasters (28:2).  The drunkards of Ephraim refers to their occupation with this world rather than worshiping the Lord (28:3; cf. Eph. 5:18).  Justice was coming on Israel in judgment, but that was not what God wanted (28:6). But because of their wickedness God would drive them out of the land of Israel. Because of their drunken occupation with this world, their lives were a mess – tables full of vomit – and they no longer thought divine viewpoint (28:8).  Isaiah asked who he could teach, because everyone lacked the ability to comprehend (28:9).  They acted like children, so the prophet made a drunken like statement that God will only provide basic truth, because they were spiritual babes (28:10).  The point is in 28:11, “For with stammering lips and another tongue He will speak to this people.”  When you look at someone who purportedly speaks in tongue, it looks like they are stammering in syllables that do not make sense.  Actually, when you go to another country today and you hear a foreign language, it looks and sounds like – “stammering lips.”  At the judgment, Israel would be forced to rest (28:12), because she would be destroyed as a nation.  Unfortunately, Israel would reject the prophecy.

            God pronounced that prior to the judgment, there would be stammering lips.  That is, when Israel hears stammering lips, they better prepare for God’s judgment. There will be a rest that comes, but not the rest they would want.  When the stammering lips come, there will be nothing the Jews can do, because the judgment IS coming. 

            This passage of Scripture in Isaiah was quoted in 1 Corinthians 14:21. Paul writes,

20 Brethren, do not be children in understanding; however, in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature.
 21 In the law it is written: “With men of other tongues and other lips I will speak to this people; And yet, for all that, they will not hear Me,” says the Lord. (1 Cor. 14:20-21)

What is the subject Paul is discussing in 1 Corinthians 14?  Paul is discussing tongues and prophesying.  Tongues was a spiritual gift God used to warn Israel that judgment was coming (Is. 28), but God also used tongues as a means of communicating truth, until the Scripture, or the Canon, was complete.

            Let’s turn to the first occurrence of tongues in Scripture.  The passage is found in Acts 2.  Fifty days after the resurrection of Jesus, the Day of First Fruits, the Day of Pentecost, God the Holy Spirit came down on the disciples and they spoke in tongues.  The context was Jewish men and families came to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast. of First Fruits.  These were Jewish families who spoke a variety of languages, yet they came to worship together.  Luke records in Acts 2,

2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.
 3 Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them.
 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
 5 And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven.
 6 And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language.
 7 Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, “Look, are not all these who speak Galileans?
 8“And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born?
 9“Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,
 10“Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes,
 11 “Cretans and Arabs– we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God. (Acts 2:2-11)

Tongues were known languages spoken by individuals who were not trained in those languages, but understandable by those who already understood that language.  It was a sign that caught the attention of people,

12 So they were all amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “Whatever could this mean?” (Acts 2:12)

They knew something special happened and they asked the right question, “Whatever could this mean?” but they did not go back to the prophet Isaiah to understand judgment was coming.  God had their attention specifically, so that they would listen to the gospel presentation by Peter,

21 And it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved. (Acts 2:21)

The two-fold purpose was to get their attention so they would listen to the gospel and secondly serve as a warning that judgment was coming.

            The secondtime speaking in tongues is mentioned is in Acts 10. Let’s look at that passage,

44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word.
 45 And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also.
 46 For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God. Then Peter answered,
 47 “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (Acts 10:44-47)

Note that again, they spoke in known languages, because it follows the precedent of Acts 2, for the purpose of magnifying God. The tongues were in a Gentile language, so the Gentiles would be drawn to the message of hope, the message of the gospel.

            The third time speaking in tongues is mentioned is in Acts 19. Luke records in Acts 19:1-6,

And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples
 2 he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” So they said to him, “We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.”
 3 And he said to them, “Into what then were you baptized?” So they said, “Into John’s baptism.”
 4 Then Paul said, “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.”
 5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
 6 And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied. (Acts 19:1-6)

Again, they spoke in known languages rather than stuttering gibberish.

            Paul’s discussion on tongues is found in 1 Corinthians 12-14.  This article was not designed to address more than “What is tongues?” so I’ll leave a discussion of that for another article.

            In conclusion, speaking in tongues refers to known languages used to gain attention to two things.  First, tongues was used to gain attention of people in order to listen to the gospel message.  Secondly, speaking in tongues was designed as a warning to Israel that they would soon be judged.  That judgment came 40 years after the speaking in tongues first occurred.  That 40 years is not a coincidence.  It is a number of judgment, but also of grace.  Israel had 40 years to respond and join the body of Christ before the judgment and destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

Question: Does God Elect or does man have Freewill in Salvation?

 

This is the first of several articles that will be included in the coming days.  Be careful about presuming on the content before you listen to understand and dialogue with someone on this important doctrine.

 

Does God Elect or does man have Freewill in Salvation?

 

            The question of Election versus Freewill has stirred up theological thinking for hundreds of years.  It’s not been totally settled, but many people have come with more clear answers than others.  Does God elect people separate and apart from the free will of man?  Or, does the free will of man determine his destiny for eternity? The Bible seems to address both aspects. 

            This will be the first of several articles to address this important question.  There is so much Scripture on the topic that it will not be addressed in a few short articles.  The purpose of this is to answer the question posed to me and to provide discussion points, so that we might arrive at a clearer understanding of God’s plan without causing division, schism, or even separation.  Jesus said oneness was a major purpose for His people in His prayer to the Father (John 17:20-23).  My intention is to preserve peace and rightly divide Scripture by renewing truth in the mind.

            Scripture indicates God sovereignly makes choices apart from man. For example,

13 As it is written, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.”
 14 What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not!
 15 For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion1.”
 16 So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.
 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth1.”
 18Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens. (Rom. 9:13-18)

Is this black and white clear?  Remember this is only one text, which must be harmonized with 66 books of the Bible.  One text cannot be taken out of context, or it becomes a pretext.

            On the other hand, Scripture indicates that man has freewill.  For example,

“And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” (Josh. 24:15)

If man didn’t have a choice, why would Joshua tell them to choose? Additionally, John wrote,

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)

If man didn’t have a part in salvation, then why does it say, “that whoever believes”?  Both God’s sovereignty and man’s freewill are indicated in Scripture, so how do we harmonize this to prevent any contradictions or pretexts in Scripture?

            This is best understood by the word “antinomy.” The word literally means “against the law” or the mutual incompatibility, real or apparent, of two laws.  The concept of antinomy holds that two subjects are both true, yet they contradict each other.  For example, the Trinity is an antinomy in that God is one and God is three. On the one extreme, God is one, which is modalism and states that God appears as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  On the other extreme, God is three and the extreme holds to three gods or tritheism.  If you go too far on either truth, you enter heresy. The same is true with sovereignty and free will.  Both are true and you end in heresy if you camp on one or the other.  Accept the antinomy by faith and you will be much closer to the truth.

             Does God elect? Yes.  Does man have freewill? Yes. Did God elect before the creation of the human race? Yes. Does man have to choose at the point of salvation to trust in Jesus Christ as Savior? Yes.

            Those who hold to extremes counter the other side’s argument. For example, those who camp on the sovereignty of God often say God regenerates man and then gives man faith to believe.  God does not give faith to those who do not believe.  Scripture does say, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy…” (Rom. 9:15).  Those who hold to the free will of man extreme often say that God knew who would believe and thus elected them. 

The key is to accept by faith that both are true and seek to understand Scripture so that no contradiction exists.  There can be no contradiction in Scripture, because it is inspired by God (2 Tim. 3:16) and the Holy Spirit carried along the writers of Scripture (2 Pet. 1:21), so that it is true (John 17:17).

            I will include a few more articles on the subject in the following days to stir up your thinking and to grasp the awesome infinity of God’s wisdom.

Question: What is the Role of Women in Church?

What is the Role of Women in Church?

The role of women has characteristically been a question since the Garden of Eden.  When the woman, later named Eve, took the leadership role, while Adam stood by, a problem developed.  It’s not that women are not good leaders.  They are incredible and often better leaders than many men.  However, the question is “What is the role of women?” And especially, “What is the role of women in the church?”

This question is like many questions; the question can only be answered if you start with the right source or view. For example, “Is beauty in the eye of the beholder?” Or, “What music should be used to worship God?”  Or even, “Is it right for women to work outside the home?”  If you begin with man’s view, you’ll develop one kind of answer.  If you begin with God’s view, you may get another answer.

The question must be answered from Scripture. There is no question that men and women are equal in essence.  Paul wrote, …there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28) They are one in that they are equal in essence before God. When Peter wrote how a husband is to live with his wife, he wrote, “Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered.” (1 Pet. 3:7)  Peter did not say that women were weaker than men.  He said that husbands are to live with their wives AS, or in a similar way, you would with a weaker vessel.  In other words, give her honor and treat her with respect and love.  Men and women are equal as people before God.

Yet, God gave them different roles.  Men are assigned specific leadership responsibilities.  For example, men are addressed as responsible for child training, “Fathers do not provoke your children to anger…” (Eph. 6:4).  But that doesn’t mean women won’t raise children as Timothy’s mother and grandmother raised him (2 Tim. 1:5). Women may do the bulk of child training, especially if the father travels for work or puts in exceptionally long hours. Yet, God holds fathers responsible. 

Another example is that men are addressed as those who might aspire to the position of overseer, which is the functional responsibility in the church of an elder or pastor.  Paul writes, “If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work.” (1 Tim. 3:1)  The position of pastor is not open to women.  Paul makes that clear in 1 Timothy 2:12, where Paul says, “And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.” (1 Tim. 2:12)  The original Greek “to teach” and “to have authority” are grammatically both present infinitives, which means the woman is not to be in the position of regularly teaching men or maintaining authority over men.  If the verbs were aorist infinitives, it would mean they could not ever teach men or have any authority over men.  As Paul states it, women could teach men as an expert over a particular subject matter or report back as a missionary to a church, or serve as a chairperson of a committee, of which she is an expert, but not on an on-going basis. This does not mean women cannot teach or exercise authority.  Women are to teach younger women,

3 the older women likewise, that they be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things–
 4 that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children,
 5 to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed.  (Titus 2:3-5)

Women also are excellent teachers of children.  At Grace, women teach boys and girls through high school and then women beyond high school. Women will speak to mixed audiences on special occasions.  Why are women restricted?  God wrote that guideline.  It is His model. 

I do not need to evade that question by providing a simplistic answer, although because “God said it” should be enough.  Paul wrote, “And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.” (1 Ti m.2:14) Can men be deceived?  Of course, but God holds men responsible to give the answer and justification for what happens, not the woman.  Will she have to give an account?  Of course, she’ll have to give an account for herself (2 Cor. 5:10), not as the final authority for her marriage.  Who does God hold responsible for divorce? The man! Malachi records, “Yet you say, “For what reason?” Because the LORD has been witness between you and the wife of your youth, with whom you have dealt treacherously; yet she is your companion and your wife by covenant.” (Mal. 2:14)  Are wives responsible for their marriages?  Of course (Eph. 5:33), but the onus is on the man!

            An additional example is that men are tasked by God to fight and protect women and children.  God always numbered the number of male warriors in Israel, not women.  Women were not called to fight.  Can they fight?  Like cats and dogs.  But that is not their role.  Men are to lay down their life for women, even as Jesus laid down his life for the Church. God told Moses,

2 “Take a census of all the congregation of the children of Israel, by their families, by their fathers’ houses, according to the number of names, every male individually,

 3 “from twenty years old and above– all who are able to go to war in Israel. You and Aaron shall number them by their armies.” (Num. 1:2-3)

Note two things.  First, Moses was to number the males, not the females.  Secondly, they were numbered and expected to be able to go to war.  Those males who were not, were not numbered.  Men are responsible for the role of protection, not women.  Are women to protect?  Of course, but it is not their responsibility.

            There are additional examples.  For example, God chose men as the writers of Scripture.  All of the priests in the Old Testament were men.  Women were not allowed to serve.  This doesn’t diminish the role of women any more than Jesus’ role of going to the cross diminishes who He is in the Trinity.

            So what is the role of men and women?  John Piper and Wayne Grudem edited an historical volume entitled, “Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism.”1  They give the following definitions for biblical manhood and womanhood.  For manhood they wrote,

At the heart of mature masculinity is a sense of benevolent responsibility to lead, provide for and protect women in ways appropriate to a man’s differing  relationships. (p. 35)

For womanhood, they wrote,

At the heart of mature femininity is a freeing disposition to affirm, receive and nurture strength and leadership from worthy men in ways appropriate to a woman’s differing relationships. (p. 36)

In this excellent 566 page tome, they, word-by-word, explain these definitions and relate the roles of men and women in the home and church.  This is the best volume on the market that examines the roles of men and women, including their roles in the church. I refer you to this excellent resource.

            This begs the question, “Why did God make distinctions between the roles of men and women?”  Did God decide to put women under the thumb of men to make women miserable?  Does God not like women as much as men?  Nothing could be further from the Truth!  God is a God of order (1 Cor. 14:40).  Everything has a purpose and ultimately that purpose is to glorify God.  Consider the following thoughts.

            First, the roles of men and women mirror the roles of the Trinity.  Just as God the Son was submissive to the Father (John 5:19, 30), so the woman is submissive to the man (Eph. 5:22).  The Son is not inferior to the Father (John 10:30), but they have different roles (Luke 22:42).  The Son executes the Father’s plan in obedience to the Father’s will (Luke 2:49).  The Son doesn’t look down on Himself and was obedient to the point of death (Phil. 2:8).

            Secondly, the roles of men and women provide for structure and order. Paul commands wives to be submissive, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” (Eph. 5:22)  The word for “submit” or “be subject” is a military term, which means “to serve under” or “under authority.” The Roman centurion understood this authority (Luke 7:8). The husband doesn’t become the big Kahuna, whereby he is free to do what he wants.  That would be sin.  The husband must die to himself, his own desires, so that he can lead his wife, in order to best serve the Lord as a couple (Eph. 5:25-26).

            Thirdly, the roles of men and women provide the best environment for raising and discipling children to the next generation. Women are tremendous nurturers with children all through life, and often much better than fathers, while fathers are called on to exhort their children to godliness. Paul explains that differentiation,

7 But we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children.
 8 So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us.
 9 For you remember, brethren, our labor and toil; for laboring night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, we preached to you the gospel of God.
 10 You are witnesses, and God also, how devoutly and justly and blamelessly we behaved ourselves among you who believe;
 11 as you know how we exhorted, and comforted, and charged1 every one of you, as a father does his own children, (1 Thes. 2:7-11)

            Fourthly, the roles of men and women in the church are designed to hold men responsible to the original command in the Garden “to tend and keep” and be responsible for ensuring that the church will be kept on track.  Can men lead the church off track?  Of course he can and does!  And he will be held responsible before God.  Can women lead a church to godliness, truth and growth?  Yes and there are many examples where they do.  But just because they do or it is expedient, because some women are better capable to lead and communicate, that does not make it right.  It is not any more right than numerous other roles in Scripture. For example, it was God’s choice for the Levites to serve in the tabernacle and temple, not another tribe (Ex. 38:21; Num. 1:50-53).  It was God’s choice that elders were to devote themselves to prayer and teaching the word (Acts 6:4), instead of the administrative and serving roles of the deacons.  It was God’s choice that Jesus die on the cross (Luke 22:42).  It was God’s choice that we remain on earth and be witnesses (Acts 1:8).  It is God’s choice that we suffer for doing good to exalt His name, because life is about Him, not us (1 Pet. 3:17).  It is God’s choice. 

            Women should pursue raising up women to be godly.  Paul explains what women ought to do,

3 the older women likewise, that they be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things–
 4 that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children,
 5 to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed.” (Titus 2:3-5)

This is not being done today.  There are many wonderful examples of women who are discipling other women.  There are many wonderful examples of women who care deeply about the future generations of children.  However, there are too many women who are more focused on temporal and mundane goals, rather than eternal goals.

           Women are trying to catch up and surpass men in the unimportant roles of working in the world.  There are few higher callings than to train young women to be godly, so that the Word of God not be blasphemed, as it is today.  Additionally, women should be working with children to teach them holiness, respect and diligence to understand God’s will.  What would happen if the godly women spent most of their time working with their own children and other children that are a part of their church family?  There would be such blessing our current world has never seen! Instead they are pursuing their own careers.  Where is their spiritual fruit of disciples?

            Are women intelligent?  Of course women are intelligent.  They are often more intelligent than men.  Are they good communicators?  Women are often better than men.  Are they better administrators and leaders?  Many women are much better than some of the best of men.  That isn’t the point.  What is God’s view? What does God outline in His Word? What does God say is important?  What will bring honor to God?  Will a successful career honor God like raising up disciples?  Will an ability to do whatever she wants or travel wherever she wants to go really honor God like raising up disciples?  Will an ability to have her name on the wall among the men leaders honor God like raising up disciples?  The worldly measures are so unimportant compared to raising disciples for Jesus Christ.  As Jesus said, “Not my will, but Thine be done.”
 

1Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, ed. John Piper and Wayne Grudem, Crossway Books, Wheaton, IL, 1991.